Alfred Delp

Father Alfred Delp was an influential member of the Kreisau Circle - one of the German Resistance groups operating inside Nazi Germany.

Alfred Delp, S.J. (Mannheim, Grand Duchy of Baden, 15 September 1907 – Berlin, 2 February 1945), was a German Jesuit priest and philosopher of the German Resistance. A member of the inner Kreisau Circle resistance group, he is considered a significant figure in Catholic resistance to Nazism. Falsely implicated in the failed 1944 July Plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler, Delp was arrested, and sentenced to death. He was executed in 1945.

Early life and education

Alfred Delp was born in Mannheim, Grand Duchy of Baden, to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. Although he was baptised as a Catholic, he attended a Protestant elementary school and was confirmed in the Lutheran church in 1921. Following a bitter argument with the Lutheran pastor, he requested and received the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation in the Catholic Church. His Catholic pastor recognized the boy's intelligence and love for learning and arranged for him to study at the Goetheschule in Dieburg. Possibly because of the dual upbringing, he became later an ardent proponent of radically better relations between the Churches.[1]

Thereafter, Delp's youth was moulded mainly by the Bund Neudeutschland Catholic youth movement. Immediately after passing his Abitur in which he came out on top of his class he joined the Society of Jesus in 1926. Following philosophy studies at Pullach, he worked for 3 years as a prefect and sports teacher at Stella Matutina Kolleg in Feldkirch, Austria, where in 1933, he first experienced the Nazi regime, which forced an exodus of virtually all German students from Austria and thus the Stella Matutina[2] by means of a punitive 1000 Mark fine to be paid by anyone entering Austria. With his Director, Rev. Otto Faller and Professor Alois Grimm, he was among the first to arrive in the Black Forest, where the Jesuits opened Kolleg St. Blasien for some 300 students forced out of Austria.[3] After St. Blasien, he completed his theology studies in Valkenburg, Holland (1934–1936), and in Frankfurt (1936–1937).


In 1935, Delp published his Tragic Existence, propagating a God-based humanism[4] and reviewing the existentialism of Martin Heidegger. In 1937, Delp was ordained a Catholic priest in Munich. Delp had wanted to study for a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Munich, but he was refused admission to the university for political reasons. From 1939 on, he worked on the editorial staff of the Jesuit publication Stimmen der Zeit ("Voices of the Times"), until the Nazis suppressed it in April 1941. He was then assigned as rector of St. Georg Church, part of Heilig-Blut Parish in the Munich neighbourhood Bogenhausen.[5] He preached both at Heilig-Blut and St. Georg, and also secretly helped Jews who were escaping to Switzerland through the underground.


Outspoken opposition to the Nazis by individual Jesuits resulted in harsh response from government officials, including imprisonment of priests in concentration camps. The government takeover of church property, "Klostersturm", resulted in the loss of valuable properties such as that of 'Stimmen der Zeit', and limited the work of the Jesuits in Germany. The Jesuit provincial, Augustin Rösch, Father Delp's superior in Munich, became active in the underground resistance to Hitler.

It was Augustin Rösch who introduced Delp to the Kreisau Circle. As of 1942, Delp met regularly with the clandestine group around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke to develop a model for a new social order after the Third Reich came to an end. Delp's role was to explain Catholic social teaching to the group, and to arrange contacts between Moltke and Catholic leaders, including Archbishop (later Cardinal) Konrad Preysing of Berlin.[6]

Arrest and trial

After the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler failed, a special Gestapo commission arrested and interrogated all known members of the Resistance. Delp was arrested in Munich on 28 July 1944 (eight days after Claus von Stauffenberg's attempt on Hitler's life), although he was not directly involved in the plot.[7] He was transferred to Tegel Prison in Berlin. While in prison, he secretly began to say Mass and wrote letters, reflections on Advent, on Christmas, and other spiritual subjects,[8] which were smuggled out of the prison before his trial. On 8 December 1944, Delp received a visitor, Franz von Tattenbach SJ, sent by Rösch, to make his final vows to the Jesuit Order. This was supposedly forbidden, but the attending policemen did not understand what was going on.[9] Delp wrote on the same day, It was too much, what a fulfillment, I prayed for it so much, I gave my life away. My chains are now without any meaning, because God found me worthy of the "Vincula amoris" (chains of love).[9]

He was tried, together with Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, Franz Sperr, and Eugen Gerstenmaier, before the People's Court (Volksgerichtshof) on 911 January 1945, with Roland Freisler presiding. Alfred Delp, Helmuth von Moltke, and Franz Sperr were sentenced to death by hanging for high treason and treason.[10] The court had dropped the charge against Delp of cognizance of the 20 July plot, but his dedication to the Kreisau Circle, his work as a Jesuit priest, and his Christian-social worldview were enough to seal his fate as a victim of the Nazi "system of justice".[11]


While he was in prison, the Gestapo offered Delp his freedom in return for his leaving the Jesuits, but he rejected it. Delp, like all prisoners connected with 20 July, was required to wear handcuffs day and night. Prisoners being taken to execution were handcuffed with their hands behind their backs.[12] The sentence was carried out on 2 February 1945 at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin.[13] The very next day, Roland Freisler was killed in an air-raid. A special order by Heinrich Himmler required that the remains of all prisoners executed in connection with the 20 July Plot be cremated, and their ashes scattered over the sewage fields. Accordingly, the body of Alfred Delp was cremated and his ashes disposed of somewhere near Berlin; nobody knows where.[14]

Posthumous honours

In September 1949, Rev. Superior Otto Faller at Kolleg St. Blasien unveiled memorial plaques for two former educators and teachers slain by the Nazis, Alfred Delp and Alois Grimm, whose ashes were buried there. Some thirty years later, Kolleg St. Blasien named its new theatre hall after Alfred Delp. The Alfred Delp Memorial Chapel was built in Lampertheim, consecrated on 2 February 1965, at the 20th anniversary of his martyrdom. Many schools in Germany are named after Alfred Delp, among them one in Bremerhaven. In Mannheim, a Catholic student residence is named for him. The guesthouse on the campus of the Canisius College in Berlin also bears his name. In Dieburg, the uppermost level at the Gymnasium, the Alfred Delp School, the Catholic community centre, the Father Delp House, and a street are named after him. The Bundeswehr named its barracks in Donauwörth the Alfred-Delp-Kaserne. 1955 the Wasserburgerstrasse, a street in Munich-Bogenhausen has been renamed to Delpstrasse, where Eva Braun resided from 1935 in a villa.

Beatification process

Delp's final parish in Munich sent documentation supporting the start of his official beatification process to the Archbishop of Berlin, Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, in January 1990. The German Conference of Catholic Bishops approved his inclusion in the German Martyrology as a "20th century martyr", in 1999.[15]


Delp's book In the Face of Death, published in 1956, reunited his meditations, notes, fragments of his diary and letters, written during his six months imprisonment, and has been compared to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, Letters and Papers from Prison. It is the first part of a trilogy that also includes Committed to the Earth and The Mighty God. The American edition of his Prison Meditations (1963), had an introduction by Thomas Merton, who considered him a "mystic" and his work "perhaps the most insightful Christian meditations of our time".[16] The German edition of his Collected Works (1982–1988), was organized by Fr. Roman Bleistein, S.J., and had five volumes.



See also


  1. Alfred Delp, Im Angesicht des Todes,Frankfurt, 1961, pp 138–139
  2. Josef Knünz SJ, 100 Jahre Stella Matutina 1856-1956, J.N.Teutsch, Bregenz 1956; p.132
  3. Josef Knünz SJ, 100 Jahre Stella Matutina 1856-1956, J.N.Teutsch, Bregenz 1956; p.134
  4. Alfred Delp, Tragische Existenz. Zur Philosophie Martin Heideggers (1935), in: SdZ, 37-147 sand, Sein als Existenz. Die Metaphysik von Heute (1933), in: SdZ, 557-590
  5. Karl H. Neufeld, Alfred Delp SJ, in: Gestalten der Kirchengeschichte, Band 10,2: Die neueste Zeit, Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln 1993
  6. Gill, An Honourable Defeat, p. 164
  7. See 20 July Plot, especially Note 4
  8. Alfred Delp, Im Angesicht des Todes, Frankfurt, 1961
  9. 1 2 Alfred Delp, Kämpfer, Beter, Zeuge, Herder Freiburg, 1962, p. 63
  10. Urteil des Volksgerichtshofs Berlin, 1.Senat vom 9.bis 11. Januar 1945 (1L439/44 - 1L397/44 - OJ 21/4 G Rs - OJ 38/44 gRs
  11. Benedicta Maria Kempner, Priester vor Hitlers Tribunalen, Alfred Delp, Bertelsmann, 1996, p. 71
  12. Benedicta Maria Kempner, Priester vor Hitlers Tribunalen, Alfred Delp, Bertelsmann, 1996, p.72
  13. See 20 July Plot, Note 5, regarding executions of people not guilty of 20 July conspiracy
  14. Alfred Delp, Kämpfer, Beter, Zeuge, Herder Freiburg, 1962, p. 120
  15. "All of life is advent": On the life and death of Alfred Delp, S.J., Ignatius Insight, 21 November 2009
  16. A Martyr to the Nazis, Article by Andreas R. Batlogg, America, 21 January 2008
  17. Alfred Delp, SJ, Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press 2006, p.77
  18. Alfred Delp, SJ, Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press 2006, page 19
  19. Alfred Delp, SJ, The Prison Writings, Orbis 2004, p.xvi
  20. Letter to Eugen Gerstenmaier, in Kollegbrief St. Blasien, Sommer 1965, p. 7–8
  21. Alfred Delp, SJ, The Prison Writings, Orbis 2004, p.xvii
  22. memorial plate in Mannerheim


English sources

German sources

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